Yue knew that she was pacing and yet she could not stop herself. The longer she waited, the faster she paced; to and fro, back and forth, step after step right outside the commander’s tent. She had peeked inside some time earlier to find it empty. In her arms were the once vomit covered boots that belonged to Kang; Yue had cleaned them until the worn out leather shone a little. She even soaked them in a mixture of used tea leaves to ensure that whatever lingering smell of vomit was removed entirely.
It had been barely ten minutes when Lang found her still pacing.
“The Commander is not here.” Lang said. Entering the tent, Lang approached the desk that was situated next to the entrance and placed the rolls of parchments he had been holding carefully onto the table top.
Yue watched with a raised eyebrow as Lang arranged the parchments in accordance to their lengths; it was as though he had an invisible measuring tape with him. Satisfied, Lang straightened up and dismissed Yue’s questioning look with the crossing of his arms across his chest.
“Do you know when he will be back? I just wanna return these to him” Yue said, indicating the boots in her arms.
“Just leave them by the entrance with the other boots.”
“Alrighty then. Could you please tell the Commander that I’ve left the boots here? I don’t wanna piss him off again.”
Placing the boots down by the other boots, Yue straightened up to find Lang studying her.
“What?” Yue asked.
With something that looked like a shrug, Lang dismissed Yue from Kang’s tent. Yue knew better than to probe any further; sure Lang was a nice guy. But how nice would he be if he found out Yue was an imposter? Besides, nice was variable, unlike Zhao, Lang hardly showed Yue any affection.
Exiting the tent, Yue looked up at the night sky; the nights here were pitch black if it weren’t for the fire torches placed systematically around the camp. Pitch black had an advantage – the night sky appeared dark blue dotted with shimmering stars; like glitter thrown across a dark canvas. Yue could make out constellations although she didn’t know what they were called. Without light pollution from cities nor any high-rise buildings standing in the way, the sky looked enormous, spanning from horizon to horizon. It felt as though the sky would swallow Yue up whole without hesitation.
Having gotten used to the layout of the camp like the back of her hand, Yue navigated half-blind towards a spot she had found some months ago. Across the camp entrance, the flat plain that lay open right under the sky away from the trees; it was the perfect spot to stargaze. Hardly anyone came here even though it was so close to the camp because everyone chose to go swimming at the lake on the other side of the camp.
Lying herself down, Yue cringed in pain as she disturbed the healing bruise on her abdomen. Strings of curses came tumbling out from her lips; curses that involved Kang and his manhood. Breathing heavily, Yue settled herself down; resting the back of her head on her arms as her eyes glanced across the galaxy above her. Slowly, Yue’s breathing returned to normal as the sharp pain subsided – replaced by a dull ache. Removing an arm from behind her head, she rubbed her bruised abdomen gingerly hoping that it would elevate the ache.
The wind was picking up, the cold wind dancing through the leaves and grass; although it wasn’t strong enough to force Yue to return to camp. It was cool enough to induce a sleep haze to grow in her mind. Her lids grew tired and heavy, closing slowly before she would force them open again only to have them close again. She did not know how much time had passed before the sound of footsteps approaching pulled her out of her stupor.
Ignoring the pain, Yue jerked straight up as she glanced around her surroundings. It seems her military training hadn’t failed her yet. Her right hand shot to her left hip quickly to retrieve the sword the military had issued her; only to remember that she had removed her sword before going to find the commander when her fingers enclosed around nothing. Mentally slapping herself, Yue forced herself to full alert as she tried to pinpoint the direction of the newcomer. There it was again from her left.
“Great! Right in the dense thicket…” Yue groaned.
There shouldn’t be anyone out there this late in the night as Zhao had warned the recruits of poisonous snakes and whatnots that roamed in the forest at night. Deciding that it was none of her business, Yue quickly retreated from the direction of the sound – she had watched enough films back when the internet had already been invented to know that curiosity at times like these were what got the characters killed.
Yue was right.
Just as she was about to leave, she heard the sounds of a battle. She could make out a male voice although she could not make out the words. Whilst she was fighting her curiosity, the metallic shrill of swords leaving their sheath rang through the silence of the night. The clashing of the metal forced her out of her indecisiveness and she found herself walking towards the fight before she could even stop herself.
Entering the forest, Yue was glad her eyes had already gotten used to the dark thereby making it easier to navigate in the darkness. She only had to walk a short distance before the words from the man before became coherent.
“The King knows; We know and We will never stop hunting you down. A traitor like you will never succeed.”
The man who spoke was a fellow trainee Yue had met on a few occasions. Tien was his name and his record had not been impressive, in fact, he had been one of the more mediocre soldiers of their batch. He always claimed that he had a bad back and could not do much of the military trainings. This very same guy was now fending against a masked assassin; his movements fluid as water as he evaded the attacking blows. Blow after blow; jab after jab; Tien was able to parry every single stroke that came his way.
“We are the shadows behind the King’s guard; the poison on the King’s sword. If you think We are that easy to take down, you are going to regret that when We have that head of yours up on a spike on the city’s gates.” Tien growled lowly as he changed into offensive.
The masked assailant was just as good as Tien; Tien’s words did not affect him, in fact it seemed as though Tien had not spoken at all. He evaded all the attacks from Tien just as easily as Tien had.
The attack came fast and silent; a poisoned needle found its mark on the side of Tien’s neck – straight into the pulsating jugular vein. It was instantaneous. Falling to his knees, Tien watched in horror as his body refused to listen to his commands. The masked man strolled up to behind Tien, an arm snaking around the base of Tien’s neck.
“You are not shadows if you are shining so brightly for me to see. Only men from the King’s personal guard have such extravagant flowers engraved on those hilts,” the masked man said tapping the hilt lightly as he picked up the slackened arms of Tien.
“And it is only poison if it hits its mark.”
Red. It was all Yue could see. Red blood poured out from Tien’s abdomen and back as the masked assassin slowly buried Tien’s own sword into its wielder’s body until only its hilt shown from the front and half of the blade had exited from the back. Tien’s eyes were wide opened in shock and pain as he was unable to fend off his killer.
“You were the easiest compared to the others.”
It was some time before Yue could regain her thoughts. She released the breath that had been stuck at the top of her throat without even realising how shaky it was. Hot tears had formed and slid down her cheeks as she watched Tien struggle to breathe through the pain and blood that was regurgitating into his mouth. Without a second thought, Yue approached the dying man and saw the fear in his eyes. He had tears running down his face as his body remained useless to him; his eyes fixed upon Yue’s as though he were imploring her for a favour. Yue did not know what she was supposed to do, she tried to pull the sword out from Tien; but that only evoked a gurgle of choked blood from Tien’s lips and more tears from his eyes.
“I am so sorry! Ho-hold on please! Please! I’ll go get some-someone. I’ll get Zhao, so please hang on!” Yue begged as the man before her started to die.
Tien’s body started to spasm violently; his eyelids drooped heavily as his eyeballs rolled upwards. In a split second, Tien started gasping – blood choking his airways as he started suffocating on his own blood. With a final cough, Tien’s eyes flew open as his dying glimpse landed upon Yue. It was as what she had heard from other people, the first to go was the light in their eyes. It was as though the glitter of life had escaped from the eyes first. A dullness enveloped the irises even before the blood stopped pouring; even before the sound of Tien choking on his own blood stopped; before the heart even stopped beating. It were the eyes that went first.
“N-no! No no no no!” Yue cried as she tried to shake the man before her alive.
Quickly, Yue got to her feet and ran towards the camp, she had to get to Zhao. There was a killer out there targeting the soldiers of the camp. Zhao would know what to do. Yue ran through the camp gates and stumbled slightly before crashing hard onto the ground. The tears in her eyes blurred everything before her as she pushed herself off the ground; a shiver ran up her spine. Her head jerked up and she looked back towards the direction she had came from and spotted the masked man staring right at her. Supressing the scream that was threatening to erupt from her lips, Yue forced herself with whatever willpower she had to swallow it back down and to run – to run as fast as she could because if she didn’t, she would definitely be next.
Her momentum was stopped abruptly as she slammed hard into another person. Although the impact made Yue stumble and hit a smithing anvil, she knew she couldn’t be stopped here. Without a second glance, Yue pushed herself back onto her feet and forced her way into Zhao’s tent when she finally reached it. She was not too sure how she made it, but the moment her vision settled onto Zhao, she collapsed into a fit of hysteria.
“Yue?!” Zhao cried out as he pulled her further into the tent and into his chair.
The girl before looked as though she was crazy. She was covered in dirt; her hair was in a mess; there were tears pouring out from her unfocused eyes; and her entire abdominal area and her arms were covered in blood. From her mouth, incoherent words just kept mumbling as her entire frame trembled with what he knew was fear.
Zhao looked up from the girl before him and looked haplessly at the other two men in his tent with him; Lang and Lei. Both of them had been taken aback when Yue stumbled in from the outside visibly shaken and covered in blood. Yue had not noticed them at all when she came in because her entire consciousness had only been focused on finding Zhao.
“Z-Zhao, Tien! Tien needs help!” Yue cried as she grabbed on to Zhao.
“Tien? I don’t get it, what help? What happened?”
“In the forest. He-he, Tien, he got st-stabbed!”
Zhao saw someone move suddenly from his peripherals before Lei pushed him aside, his hands were on Yue’s shoulders at once, holding her still and making her look straight at him.
“Where in the forest?”
“There’s someone out there. He killed Tien. I think Tien is d-de-dead…”
“WHERE in the forest?!” Lei asked once again, this time with more force as he shook the disorientated Yue slightly.
It was as though Yue just noticed Lei in the tent for the first time, her unfocused eyes seemed snap back into focus on his dark brown pupils. Yue had to blink several times before Lei’s words made sense to her in her mind.
“Near the small shrine the other soldiers set up sometime during the eighth.” Yue muttered softly, her heart thumping loudly in her ears.
“Lang, go get the commander; Zhao increase the number of guards and inform the others.” Lei ordered before he turned back to Yue once again. “Yue, I need you to take me to Tien, can you do that?”
Shaking her head, Yue tried to tell Lei that it was impossible. She could not bring herself to return there because she knew exactly what had happened there and what was now waiting for her if she were to go back. He could even still be there, and there was no way she could even stand properly if she saw him again. Lei asked her once again, and still Yue refused. She couldn’t do it. Lei had to understand that. She just couldn’t do it.
Sighing irritably, Lei rubbed the back of his neck roughly before grabbing Yue’s wrist. There was little sympathy in his voice when he finally spoke.“I can’t see well in the dark so you WILL take me there now.”